Having kept him off stage for most of the previous episode while establishing the new series premise and companions, this is our first proper glimpse of the third Doctor in action. Interestingly, given both Troughton’s performance and producer Derrick Sherwin’s original conception of the new Doctor, he’s presented as a whimsical character (which is reinforced by the jaunty music Dudley Simpson adds whenever he is onscreen) which is quite unlike how Pertwee will develop the part.
Some of the touches – like the Doctor singing a little song while he hides in the shower – are things Pertwee will retain (‘Klokleda partha menin klatch’), others, like his communicating in Delphon, and his scampering about (with a lovely comic moment when he checks a sign on a door, clocks it says ‘Doctors only’ and goes in), quickly fade. The scene where the Doctor takes a high-handed approach towards a parking attendant, berating him until he caves in, comes straight from The War Games (the moment when Troughton pretends to be from the War Office). In general, its a lot easier to imagine Trougton playing this than it was to see Hartnell in The Power of the Daleks. But largely that’s because so far the Doctor hasn’t really been put to the test. The major difference is how antagonistic he is towards the Brigadier, and how quickly he co-opts Liz as an ally against his old friend.
This is good for Liz as well: without the Doctor’s schoolboyish cheek, her astringency does threaten to become a bit aggravating. There’s a moment when she mocks the idea of ‘an alien who travels through time and space in a police box’. Given this was the premise of the series for 253 episodes, her mockery might either be setting her up for a fall or, given we know the TARDIS is going to gather dust for the next 35 episodes, the show making fun of itself.
With Liz declaring that she ‘deal with facts not science fiction’ and the Doctor flitting round the edges, Nicholas Courtney has to do most of the work to sell the new set-up, and he does a great job. The Brigadier is already calling the new guy ‘the Doctor’ and, despite himself seems to be ready to ‘believe in a man who’s helped to save the world twice, with the power to transform his physical appearance’
While the regulars are starting to come into focus, the baddies remain fairly vague. There’s plenty that’s very creepy though – this serial doesn’t just rely on the famous Ealing Broadway sequence. The plasticky people, including a silent, statuesque blonde secretary, are obviously weird, and the doll production line is memorably unsettling. The Autons look great as they stride around, with oddly jerky movements, looking like an army of Michael Myers in their impassive masks and boiler suits. But the cliffhanger feels slightly botched, like it’s been moved back to provide an ending to the episode. A dummy suddenly jerking to life in the background and stepping off its plinth is spooky – but it’s undermined given we’ve already been watching one of its brethren striding about the woods for several minutes.
Next episode: Spearhead from Space – Episode 3